The Dallas Cowboys are sitting idly by so far during what has been a free agent spending frenzy across the NFL.
It’s no surprise. It is generally what they do this time of year.
But just because the Cowboys, who did re-sign fullback Jamize Olawale and backup tackle Cam Fleming to bargain extensions as well as Tavon Austin and defensive lineman Christian Covington, aren’t making major moves doesn’t mean they are not being impacted.
It’s not just the players like receiver Cole Beasley and linebacker Damien Wilson who have left for better offers with the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively.
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It’s also how the money being doled out so far in free agency will affect how the Cowboys do business this off-season and going forward with their own players.
The big market for safeties — typified by Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu getting $14 million annually — took them completely out of the running for the only free agent they desired in Earl Thomas, who landed in Baltimore for $55 million over four years.
Here is the damage that’s been done on their in-house priorities:
DE DeMarcus Lawrence
Lawrence, an unrestricted free agent, has been the team’s primary focus.
The Cowboys already knew it was going to cost a lot to sign Lawrence to a long-term contract extension. He is under the franchise tag at $20.5 million for 2019 and wants somewhere between that and the $23.5 million annual deal that Khalil Mack is getting from the Chicago Bears.
The interesting thing is the Cowboys first offer to Lawrence was for $17 million annually, per a source.
That former Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers got that from the Detroit Lions makes that offer laughable. Flowers has never had more than seven sacks in a season. Lawrence has had 25 the past two seasons. Yet, Flowers got a five-year, $90 million contract that includes $56M in guarantees.
Lawrence is going to get his. And he will hold out until he does.
WR Amari Cooper
The Cowboys want to sign Cooper to a long-term contract extension at No. 1 receiver money. That number went up when Antonio Brown received a new three-year deal worth up to $54.125 million from the Raiders, with $30.125 million guaranteed. Brown is getting $19.8 million per year in new money.
So a possible deal for Cooper at the target amount of $14-15 million annually is likely no longer an option. The Cowboys will have to go higher. Look at $16 million as the floor. Keep in mind that they offered $16 million annually to Sammy Watkins last year before he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Cooper is better than Watkins, who has just 1,000-yard season in his career and recorded just 400 catches for 519 and three touchdowns in a disappointing first season with the Chiefs in 2018.
QB Dak Prescott
The Cowboys were already prepared to pay Prescott top quarterback money. They have budgeted for it and they say he deserves it, by their own admission. But for anyone thinking, don’t think of it in line with what Nick Foles got from the Jacksonville Jaguars. He has signed a four-year, $88 million deal that is worth up to $102 million and includes $50.1 million in guaranteed money.
Sure, Foles led the Eagles to a Super Bowl title in 2017. But he has just 24 starts the past three years as a fill-in backup. Prescott has 48 starts the past three years and is the future of the Cowboys.
Prescott will get a deal for at least $27 million annually with the betting money at $30 million.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
Vice president Stephen Jones has said they have already budgeted a significant deal for Elliott. Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley’s four-year, $60 million deal, which includes $45 million in guarantees and a signing bonus of $20 million, is the blueprint.
Gurley revitalized a down running back market last summer. The Cowboys, however, got a win of sorts late Tuesday night when Le’Veon Bell when came to terms with the New York Jets for $52 million for four years, including $35 million guaranteed. Bell, who sat out all of last season after refusing a second franchise tag from the Pittsburgh Steelers, had hoped to surpass Gurley and recoup the money he lost in 2018. But he came in under Gurley on average per year and total guarantees.
Still, the Cowboys plan to do right by Elliott, who is the focal point of their offense. He has two rushing titles in his first three years and is certainly deserving of being the highest-paid running back in the league. The question is when.
If he doesn’t get it before the 2019 season, he could hold out. He has no intention of being the next Bell.
LB Jaylon Smith
Smith will be a restricted free agent next year and then he will get a chance to hit free agency in 2020. He should send a thank you card to C.J. Mosely, who reset the market for inside linebackers with a five-year, $85 million pact with $51 million guaranteed from the New York Jets.
The average value of $17 million per year blows away the previous high for an inside linebacker of $12.3 million by Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers.
And just think what is coming down the pike for emerging star Leighton Vander Esch not long after.